The first thing I do is buy candy. I’m not talking just any candy. I’m not even talking about my favorite candy. This candy in particular is of the utmost import because it is an allegory for my sojourn to Berlin. It comes from the 94 year-old German company, Haribo. While they are famously known for their delectable and nostalgic Goldbären (gummy bears), I fancy their Tropifrutti brand for comfort.
Tropifrutti are similar to Goldbären in generalities but there is an obvious difference in that Tropifrutti are slightly larger in size, exhibit different shapes and colors in regards to each respective tropical fruit flavor inspiration (though they all taste exactly the same), and they have a different viscosity altogether. They are a bit more gelatinous than Goldbären, and have a thick outer layer that is not hard or crunchy, but rather a rigid coating of extra sugar that encases the pliable interior.
I walk directly to the nearest U-bahn station to find them, completely engulfed in the forthcoming serenity of the first bite – sweet, satisfying, distracting, but leaving so much to be desired in the technical realm of the palette found many times over in other brands.
I walk with my head down instead of up as I usually do, looking into the windows of strangers and creating stories about them, judging their interior design choices and reminiscing about when I used to have the luxury of such frivolity – it’s been over a year since I’ve even had my own living quarters or a room to call my own or a place to stay or somewhere to live. Sometimes I’ll see a fellow voyeur looking out at the city or a solitary smoker on the balcony or a few friends or a couple and I will make mental notes of who they might be. Sometimes I try to get their attention and deviously divert their role as the onlooker and turn them into the exhibitionist. Sometimes I see normal things, sometimes I see perverse things.
My hands are in my pockets, and in a few moments I will anticipate washing them again as I already did moments ago while I thought the water wasn’t hot enough and my hands will never be clean enough.
When I finally arrive to the kiosk I am riddled with the fear of being gawked at and examined by other pedestrians – wondering if they are wondering who I am and where I have been and where I am going, the same as I usually do whenever I am out.
I scan the Haribo section looking for the pelican and the faded bright periwinkle blue of the candy’s package (all of the products have a distinctive color designation) that is not always hard to identify easily in a disoriented state.
The shopkeeper is looking at me curiously, and I ponder the hypothesis that he could very well smell the dirty on me. I place the package on the counter while averting my eyes and then I ask for a pack of cigarettes (in German) and he always answers in English – at least at this particular kiosk where I most frequent during this distinct occasional foray.
I pull out the money, filthy and shockingly bright inside of my wallet that is filled with expired IDs from the USA and business cards of people I don’t ever do business with and used tickets from the subway just in case I somehow forget to buy a ticket one day and I have to prove to the (probably handsome and disarming) Ticket Controller that I actually spend a lot of money on BVG transportation services and I wasn’t trying to hop on a free ride. Then I think of how I really need to get my bike fixed but I can never afford to.
The money is so colorful and sly, like a pre-dawn rainbow. The magic of it dissipates almost immediately after its arrival. I’ve long forgotten about the currency exchange rate as it is no matter to me now that my American bank account is defunct due to the typical Berliner financial demise. Before I left three years ago I met a British man at a bar who was complaining about how American “notes” are all the same size. A culture clash in the opposite direction, I wish I had that elitist complaint. I’ve learned not to complain anymore. The orange, the red, and the blue were all welcomed objects of interlude to appease my constant destitution.
The second thing I do is walk. I walk. I walk. I walk some more. It doesn’t matter where I have to be, I walk. I can’t emotionally handle the confines of public transportation with all of my self-esteem sucked out of me. For the first time after a few hours, I don’t have to watch the clock or keep checking the time; I don’t care. I will get there when I get there.
I eat the TropiFrutti candy in variations of consumption, sometimes taking delicate, almost dainty individual bites, sometimes cramming handfuls into my dirty mouth to satiate my desire to brush my teeth over and over again. The sugar washes away the bitterness somehow.
I pull the sack of treats in and out of my bag instead of being practical about it. Perhaps that is the embarrassment of my heritage. In American east coast metropolitan areas it is commonplace to eat while walking, preferably from some heinous, manmade food or beverage vessel that accommodates the to-go lifestyle. Here on the other side of the planet and in a world of its own you don’t see so much as a coffee cup being carried by denizens on the go except for the exception of recyclable beer bottles that can be seen in the hands of a motley array of Berliners at any hour of the day and in any place in the city…
I walk and I window-shop. I look at things that I might somehow be able to finagle myself into buying even though I know I most certainly won’t. I see fancy breads at the bakery and beautiful ripe fruits on the presentation stands in front of the markt, I see men’s underwear and socks on the well endowed mannequins, the glaring red “SALE” signs with the percent punctuation mocking my entire exsistance. I realize then that I have convinced myself that I want these things and that I don’t need them or at least that I have learned to live without them or that anything is more than less of what I have.
The third thing I do is smoke a cigarette. Of all the things that are killing me, I covet and resent smoking the most. While it seems that it will forever remain one of Europe’s most fashionable addictions, whenever I get any miraculous bounty to call my own they are on the top of the list of priorities for my meager budget. I always hope that they have my primary brand, Parisienne. I was introduced to the brand by one of my dearest friends in Berlin who I met in the typical Berliner way, working together on an art project. We became fast friends and had the rare opportunity to commiserate about our attitudes towards our new lives, both of us being from the south and getting out of there as soon as a door opened to the northeast. We shared everything, and then somehow also in the typical Berlin way, our friendship became this epitome of vacant promises and constant longing. While we complained about Berlin being the loneliest city in the world, we also reveled in it (don’t all artists want more alone time in which to hone their craft?) – and in the end, it was Berlin that came between us, like it does for most everyone no matter if they stay on the light side or the dark side of the rabbit hole.
This is the real magic of Berlin: the disappearing acts of intimacy.
I used to sit at a fountain park in Charlottenburg with said friend and we’d smoke Parisiennes and catch up with our trials, tribulations and triumphs. I am very attracted to the product design of the package and the name. It reminds me of why I came to Berlin and my hope of one day making a pilgrimage to Paris. My first time in Europe – when I approached customs the officer at the booth looked at my passport and then looked at me with smiling eyes and said, “You must be a singer!”
It was this charming seduction that continued on for those fateful 10 days along with the open armed acceptance of my calling as an artist paired with a desire to live a life that led me to the decision to move to Europe for a little while. I’ve always hated the sound of my voice – I think sometimes it is too feminine and grating, but here in Europe they love the sound of my voice and my American accent and I’ve even been told I have a great singing voice though I consider myself more of an alternative rock wailer. I very recently got a comment from a British director for an audition, “Your voice is so great, very elegant,” but every once in a while, my mouth is not so elegant.
The fourth thing I do is try not to cry.
The fifth thing I do, once the entire bag of candy has been virtually made love to instead of eaten, the walking has taken me to whatever destination, the cigarette becomes a remnant of a brown stump of filter, and I humor myself with lies of how everything is going to be okay to keep the tears from welling, I stare out at the window and take a look at myself.
No matter where I am or where I need to go, I need to visually encompass the state of Berlin. The city lights entrance me and the constant moving makes me emotionally dizzy. I look out at the place that brought me to this place. Sometimes I gawk for a minute, sometimes for several minutes, sometimes for hours, and sometimes it seems like days that I stand or sit there watching the world go by while trying to figure out where I fit into it.
The sixth thing I do is wash my hands. I wash my hands in scolding hot water with two types of soap: hard bar soap, liquid soap. I scrub my nails clean, checking over and over again to make sure I haven’t left an iota or spec left behind. I rub my hands together ferociously because I learned from a nurse that it is not the soap and water that does the cleaning but rather the friction that kills germs. My hands get hot from my intention. I want all the germs to go away. I want the dirty to go away. I take a clean towel to dry my hands. I put the towel in the trash if it’s paper or in the laundry if it is cloth.
The seventh thing I do is look myself in the mirror. I really do not enjoy this part. This is the tale tell sign of my inner weakness, a weakness I am not so usually ample to admit. My eyes are more crossed than ever, as promised by the prognosis of my doctor about twenty-eight years ago after I had my second eye surgery. He warned me that when I was in my thirties I would need another correction. At the time I was anxious for thirty, knowing that I was going to be so much better of a person and have such a better life.
I try to keep my lazy eye from wandering off, it seemingly wanting to escape the instance in itself, and I do the jarring readjustment of the right eye and put it back into place with my ocular muscles. I notice the scathed veneer on my visage – similar to the quick deterioration of Abraham Lincoln when he too was fighting against slavery. The pockmarks have turned to craters, the cheeks have become hollow, the facial hair grows discriminately, the teeth aren’t aging gracefully, my lips are dirty.
The eighth thing I do is: refer to the fourth thing.
The ninth thing I do is I remove my clothes. I’ve always hated doing this because I was taught by nurture that my body was an object. When I was a little boy, after bath time I would wear my towel at the the top of my chest like a girl when I sprinted back to my room hoping that nobody would see me so close to naked. Naked was sex. Naked was bad. Naked was dirty. Here I was again defined: sex, bad, dirty.
The tenth thing I do is finally get in the shower after the water finally gets hot. This thing reminds me of my temperament with Germans in general. You adjust it a certain way and it does the opposite of what you want it to do – but if you are patient and fight with determination, it works out for a little while and then goes cold again just as you begin to get acclimated to what you actually wanted in the first place; there is a sanctioned reserve of warmth.
The eleventh thing I do is clean myself. I again use as many different soaps as possible not only to make sure I remove the filth, but to harken some sort of aromatherapy. This is not an easy task because (as suggested) my showers are few, short and far in between – this occasional shower is superfluously long (or is it?) and full of obnoxious cleansing sounds by way of my ambition. Sometimes I sing loudly to keep myself from thinking. Sometimes I sing Nina Simone. Mostly I sing the song Turn Me On.
The twelfth thing I do is drink alcohol. It doesn’t matter where it comes from or what it is. Sometimes in between and/or during the second and third thing, I buy a small bottle of vodka. Giving the leniency of the freest city in the world, all my qualms about public drinking have faded over the years. At one place where I get the little bottle of booze, a spätkauf (late night corner store) owned by Arabs, they typically play very hard, old school gangster rap. Sometimes the shop attendant is bobbing his head along with the sick beats, sometimes he tries to spit along, sometimes he dances. I am always enlivened by this.
The thirteenth thing I do is think about my Father. I think about all the things he knew I would be and that this wouldn’t be one of them. I think about all the grief I must cause to his spirit and how if he was still alive he would fight harder than tooth and nail to help me. I think about his humor and his fierceness and his strength against adversity.
I find myself apologizing to him for many different reasons though I know he would not be ashamed. I think about how I would say I am sorry for leaving him in that state, that time proceeding his final months, even though he insisted selflessly that I heed to my ambition. I think about how he would (per usual) call my mother “crazy” if I mentioned her involvement in my discourse and her monumental quip of “you gotta do what you gotta do,” he would really get a kick out of that.
The fourteenth thing I do is: refer to the fourth thing.
The fifteenth thing I do is open my notebook to make lists. Lists have always been a source of feeling accomplished – a vital part of my sporadic happiness. I cross off things completed from lists I’ve already made, I write down thoughts and ideas and deadlines. I come back to my first obsession besides McDonald’s, words, and I scribble them all over the paper.
The sixteenth thing I do is eat. This thing is tricky because I like to go to the grocery store and figure out how to budget a meal that won’t give me buyer’s remorse. I spend a lot of time looking at products that I usually cannot buy and contemplate treating myself no matter how much I think I don’t deserve it.
Instead of getting my usual standard of sliced bread (,55 cents), a jar of strawberry marmalade (,99 cents), breakfast cereal (,99 cents), a container of milk (,69 cents), and some type of luxury item that I’ve deemed the Precious P’s the likes of pasta (,49 cents), potatoes (1 Euro ,69 cents), pretzels (,39 cents), or peanuts (,69 cents) – as long as it does not go over 5 Euro in total, I splurge on vegetables and fruit juices and sometimes meat.
When I am “shopping” I think about how I once took for granted the habit of marinating things for dinner. I think about my ex-husband, but let’s not talk about it.
I light a candle during this first supper in a long time and humbly hope it is not my last. The preparation, the tastes, the smells, the feeling in my belly…it reminds me of my pre-immigrant days when I could go to the grocery store with a list and not beat myself up if I threw a box of my favorite cookies in the cart.
The seventeenth thing I do is smoke another cigarette. This one is different from the third thing because it is a “thinking smoke break”. I take time to envelope myself in determination in order to avoid sinking into that typical Berlin heavy gray depression. Sometimes I listen to music, sometimes I sit at a table, sometimes I look out the window again, sometimes I take another walk, every time I make sure I am alone.
The eighteenth thing I do is check my email and social media. I look for signs of life from back home and signs of life from vanished friends in the same predicament as mine, I check my stats and notices, I laugh a little about myself thinking about how I used to be funny, I look at art and porn and the witticisms of others, I look at fashion that I hope to buy one day as an inspiration to keep trying, I watch everything that everybody posts on the internet…
The nineteenth thing I do is clean. I wash the dishes, I scrub the countertops, I dust everything, I vacuum (no matter the hour), I do laundry, I throw things away, I put things in order, I clean clean clean and when I get close to passing out from exhaustion, I clean some more. Of all the control I have lost, my cleaning comes in handy. Cleaning is a necessary vice for me.
Sometimes I sing while I am cleaning, sometimes I listen to music, sometimes I sing along to the music I am listening to, sometimes I smoke cigarettes while doing it, sometimes I try not to cry.
The last thing I do is go to bed. I go to bed desperately hoping for a quick journey into slumber and rapid eye movement and I pray that I won’t have my usual nightmares or that I won’t be awakened by the typical Berlin nocturnal accompaniment of party sounds including but not limited to music, fucking, spanking, frolicking…
I think of all that surrounds me and how I do my best to write it off as a rite of passage or that I’m learning the best lessons at the worst times, or that this is a true testament of my strength and that my talent has been my lifesaver to get through the hell I’ve been put through and that all of this poor poor happenstance will pay off one day but no matter what, I can’t get over the fact that I’ve done the last thing I said I would ever do.